Climate News Online
By Celia Thaysen Tuesday, 8 December, 2009 14:29
Kiribati is an island nation in the north Pacific Ocean made up of 33 atolls. With many of them lying just two metres above sea level, it is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change
Tangaroa Arobati, a 39-year-old teacher from the capital Tarawa, and Pelenise Alofa (48) from Banaba, a businesswoman and an Education Director for Church Schools, are in Copenhagen to represent NGO group Kiribati Global Warming and Climate Change Action Group, part of the Pacific Calling Partnership and Climate Action Network (Australia).
They are here to share their stories about the effects of climate change on their communities.
With a rapidly growing population, soon to reach 100,000, Kiribati relies heavily on subsistence agriculture, with copra (for coconut oil) and fishing as its main economic activities, both of which are being gradually affected by climate change.
“Our main income comes from fishing and our coral reefs provide the main source of food for the fish. But with climate change, which causes the bleaching of the corals, the reefs die, and it actually destroys the food chain,” explained Alofa. “Fisheries report that there are fewer fish. The way fishermen go fishing has changed. Now the fishermen have to go further away from shore to fish.”
Kiribati was among the first nations to be identified as being at grave risk from the effects of climate change, and became the beneficiary of a €3.7 million adaptation program – a collaboration funded by among others, the World
Bank and the United Nations Development Program.
The adaptation program includes: improving water supply management; coastal management protection measures such as mangrove re-plantation, and protection of public infrastructure; and strengthening the laws to reduce coastal erosion.
Although the adaptation program includes population settlement planning, residents are not keen to be moved. “We would love to stay in our country; it’s paradise,” stated Arobati proudly. Alofa added: “No one in the Pacific will ever say that they are moving away because of climate change, because that is degrading. Land is so important to our people. It’s our identity.”
Climate change is already impacting the daily lives of Kiribatis. Arobati explained: “We have to boil our water now because it’s becoming brackish and salty.” At the same time, the region has experienced some extreme weather changes, such as higher temperatures, stronger winds, and higher rainfall, and also droughts in other parts of the country. Alofa hopes Kiribati can harness some of these factors. “We’re getting a lot of rain now, but not everyone has a water tank. Everyone should have a water tank so they can collect the rain for drinking.”
According to the delegates, the problem is not how to help Kiribati directly. “Our problem right now is that the industrialised nations are not cutting their emissions,” said Alofa. “We need them to understand that they must do this.” She added: “We also need adaptation funds and technology that can raise our islands or build a sea wall to protect the islands from erosion, or that can provide clean water.”
As to their expectations for progress at the COP15 summit, Alofa said: “We are hoping that the bigger industrialised nations, who make the big decisions, will be fair to us. I hope that Barack Obama will prove himself a real leader. I’ve always believed that if America steps in and says we’ll do it this way, everyone will follow.”